Thursday, March 31, 2005

WMD Report

So we got it wrong.

So now what? How do we fix the mistakes?

I don't buy the idea that the entire US intelligence community just totally shit the bed on the Iraq WMD. I guarantee some analyst somewhere got it right. How do we give that guy/gal a larger voice so we avoid groupthink? My "spy blog" article is one solution (although some disagree).

I think the clearest way to solving problems is having things like the Sept 11th commission and the WMD Panel that help us avoid mistakes like this in the future. I think it speaks well of our country that we are willing to invest the time and intellectual energy to get at truth. Of course, everyone's conclusions about how much truth results from these things are shaded by their political leanings, but you don't see to many dictatorships that openly criticize themselves. Did Saddam convene the "mother of all commissions" to figure out why he lost the first Gulf War?

Updated info. Here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Why Military Blogs and Info Sharing are Important

Major K has an interesting post in his blog.



It is pronounced: ahr-HAH-bee. It is the Iraqi arabic word for terrorist. 2LT C. does not like it because "it just doesn't sing. I learned this word from our interpreters and use it often. I never use mujahedin or jihadi, because they imply a measure of respect due an actual warrior. After all, both of those terms mean "holy warrior." This distinction is also very important to the Iraqis. They have told me repeatedly that these guys are cowards who will not even stand and fight. They kill innocent people, and bomb indiscriminately. They have been their own worst enemy in the public relations department. Even though 2LT C. likes to refer to them using the A-word, (describing a posterior extremity) he would like to find something more catchy. I am content to us arhabi. It lets the locals know exactly who we are after, and what this really is about - not oil, not religion, but security and the hope for a better future.


That's a great bit of info. How the hell else would I have learned that without having military blogs to read?

I think most Americans would be surprised at the mental agility that it takes to be a soldier. I work in a job that can occasionaly be very high stress, but its nothing compared to the mental output that you have to sustain in war. I'm amazed that guys and gals like MAJ K have any brain cells left at the end of the day to take the time and share stuff like this with the rest of us. Thanks.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Creating "Intelligent" Intelligence Soldiers

I'm a news magazine junkie. My office, car, and house are littered with magazines of all kinds. My backpack usually has two or three stuffed in it. I subscribe to several including WIRED, the Atlantic, and Texas Monthly. Call me crazy, but curling up with a high-end rag like the New Yorker is heaven. My motto has always bring make sure you bring something to read.

I've always been this way, and sometimes it used to piss my dad off. He's a retired high school basketball coach, and I think he always had visions of me being the point guard at Duke or some shit like that. I rode the pine all through high school, and I think that I mostly made the varsity out of sympathy more than anything else**. He always complained that I the only kid who brought a book to the gym. Of course, if I had a dollar for every high school basketball game that I've seen in my life...Well lets just say the Atlantic can get you through a lot of boredom.

But, good reading habits have paid off more than a good jump shot ever would have. Genetically, I never had a chance at being a power forward at Gonzaga, but the ability to assimilate and analyze lots of information in a hurry has served me well professionally both in my military and civilian careers. Reading makes you a better soldier.

I was at Fort Huachuca for a school earlier in the month, and I needed a magazine fix. I went to the PX, and I had one of those reminders of the demographics that make up the Army. I was surrounded by every game, semi-porn MAXIM look-alike, and gun magazine on the market. But, no New Yorker. Crap.

This is par for the course for the Army who more or less has a lock on the lucrative 18-24 year old male demographic. However, I think things should be different at Fort Huachuca, home of Army Intelligence.

We are the soldiers that commander's rely on to be intellectuals. Plus, we are bombarded by data and conflicting points of view that we have to sort out. While entertaining, a steady diet of boobies in MAXIM does not make you a better intelligence soldier. Well written and researched journalism that broadens your horizons does. Good journalism answers the "how" and "why" just like good intelligence. Intel soldiers are the investigative journalists of the military (And not in the Geraldo "Al Capone's lost vaults" sense) so we can learn a lot from good reporting and writing.

So how do you make "intelligence" soldiers "intelligent" or at least turn them into wannabe pseudo intellectuals like some dumb Captains I know? If you're a leader of intelligence soldiers, how do you broaden their horizons and make them think "outside the box"?

Well, if you're unlucky enough to be assigned to my company, you get homework along with a healthy dose of lecturing you from a know it all captain. You get to watch movies too, but the French sub-titles probably turned you off.

Below, is the homework assignment that I gave my soldiers earlier in the year. I made everyone in the company, myself included, write essays chosen from the topics listed below based on the guidelines that I provided. They then had to present their essays to their peers and their peers critiqued them. A subscription to MAXIM wouldn't help you with these questions either.

I was really surprised at the quality of essays and discussion that I got out of my soldiers. They kicked ass. I was also surprised at who wrote the best answer. You never really know who is pretty damned smart until you do things like this.

So take a look at the abuse that I inflicted on my guys and gals. I won't post their answers because I don't have their permission, etc. Instead, think about how you would answer these. Some of these are large macro issues, but in the era of the strategic corporal it is important for even the most junior soldier to try to wrap his/her mind around these ideas. Some of the essays flirt slightly with controversy. That was not my intent. I wanted to provoke thought and discussion, and I was lucky enough to get great results. Enjoy.

**Note: Okay, I'm not a total non-athlete. I did graduate from Infantry School which requires some degree of physicality. But, I'm not built for hoops, a genetic impairment that my dad could have mitigated by marrying a taller woman or letting me play football. (And yes this is the exact moment in time where my dad quits reading my blog.)

Intelligent Homework:

As "intelligence" soldiers, we are the only branch who have the job of thinking like the enemy. Combat commanders depend on us for a clear understanding of the enemy. It is our job to "think red" and understand what the bad guys are up to. In the good old days of the cold war, this was a much easier task. Looking for Soviet-style tank and artillery concentrations in open terrain was relatively simple compared to what now faces us in the Global War on Terror (GWOT). We are fighting a highly adaptive and constantly changing enemy. Our enemy does not necessarily wear uniforms and often blends in with the civilian population. He often chooses to fight in urban areas in a fashion that negates our technological advantage. And, make no mistake, our enemy is highly skilled, motivated, and technologically savvy. He is willing to fight and die for his cause, and he believes, just as much as we do, that he is RIGHT. He is willing to take the fight to our homeland and commit horrific atrocities like videotaped beheadings in order to win.

As intelligence soldiers it is our job to tell our commanders how they can win. We gather intelligence, analyze it, and make assessments. We bet our bars and our stripes against our own intellectual ability to understand the enemy. Against a Soviet-style army, this task involved things like destroying enemy artillery and locating and destroying key command and control nodes. Now we are fighting things like religious ideology and organizations that are virus-like with no clear hierarchy. In other words, we are in a totally different kind of war than our country spent the last fifty years preparing for.

For many of you, this is not news. You have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan and understand the nature of the fight. But, for many of our soldiers, this type of warfare is new and unfamiliar. We did not study it in our MI MOS schools and so, like our enemy, we must adapt. This homework assignment is the beginning of our year-long effort to become experts at guerilla-style conflict. Our enemy is radical Islamic terrorism, and we must understand it to be intelligent intelligence soldiers.

Each soldier will pick or be assigned one of these topics. You will produce a typewritten report in the subject of no less than one thousand words. You will also provide a digital copy of this report, and you will document what sources you used on a separate sheet. For instance, if you use a book, you will provide the title for the book. Or, if you use a website, you will provide the address for the website. This information is separate from the word count for the actual report. Also, you will use no less than three separate sources.

Once the reports are written, they will be presented to the company at November drill. After each presentation, the company will discuss the merits of the paper and the points raised by it. Some of the topics may seem controversial or unpatriotic. They are not. This is an exercise designed to help you gain a different perspective on our enemies. Additionally, you should avoid broad characterizations in your reports. If you say, "the sky is blue" you should have documentation to back it up.

Here are the topics:

1. "Usama Bin Laden (UBL), My Savior"
In many parts of the Islamic world UBL is considered heroic. He is viewed as a guardian of their faith, culture, and values. From the perspective of an Islamic person living in the Middle East, explain this.

2. "The Center of Gravity"
Military doctrine states that you should attack the enemy's center of gravity in order to defeat him in battle. The center of gravity is something that the enemy cannot win without. For instance, many consider that airpower and technology is the US's center of gravity. What is the center or gravity for Islamic extremism and how should we attack it?

3. "The Great Satan"
In many parts of the world, Islamic and non-Islamic alike, the US is considered the biggest threat to world peace. People believe this despite all the great works that the US does throughout the world. Why does this hatred run so deep in the Islamic world, and what are the historical causes? Write your answer from the perspective of an Islamic person living in the Middle East.

4. "Allah Akbar"
Many Muslims in the Middle East live their faith in a way that is hard to understand to most Westerners. Islamic terrorists usually seek some sort of religious justification for their actions. Explain how this process works and cite current examples. Can we exploit this to our benefit?

5. "The CNN Effect"
The information age has changed the way wars are fought and won. In particular, satellite news outlets, such as Al Jazeera, and the internet have had an impact on the GWOT. Explain how this happens and site current examples. Also can the media be manipulated by both sides?

6. "The Jihadis"
The GWOT is not the first time Western powers have fought Islamic insurgencies. Discuss past Islamic insurrections and their causes. Also, answer who won and why.

7. "Abu Ghraib"
Discuss the impact of Abu Ghraib on the GWOT. Seek out examples of how Muslims in the Middle East have reacted to this.

8. "The only good Muslim is a..."
Is the entire Islamic world against us? Do we have any true allies in the Middle East besides Israel? Are the allies that we do have hurting us more than helping? How does this impact the GWOT?

9. "Why They Fight"
Examine the roots and causes of the insurgency in Iraq. Who are we fighting and why? How do we win?

10. "Hearts and Minds"
How do we win over the Islamic world? How do we do it on a small scale in cities such as Fallujah? And how do we do it on a global scale?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Radio Free Swarthmore Part II

Tanya at Swarthmore was good enough to send me the link to my radio interview. My portion is about 2/3 through the segment. She did a good job of making me sound at least reasonably intelligent so she gets the gold star for the week.

When I was in college at Texas Tech, about all we had for "informed commentary" was this guy Razor Dobbs who wrote waaaaayyyy too much about hunting in the University Daily. Its good to see these kids (yikes. I guess I'm old enough now to use that word) engaged and trying to make sense of the world.

Good News out of Iraq

The US Military is reporting that Iraqi forces assisted by US Air Support killed 85 militants in a training camp in the vicinity of Lake Tharthar. This is significant for several reasons.

  1. This is a big win for Iraqi forces. They appear to be beginning to be able to hold their own. Some of the bad guys got away, but more were killed.
  2. The reports indicate that a large number of foreign Jihadis were killed in the fight. This is good news. The foreign fighters are the most likely to be violent, and the least likely to be convinced to quit fighting integrate into the new government.
  3. And this is just my assessment here. But, it sounds like a nice intelligence victory too. A camp that held ~100 insurgents had probably been in business for a while, and had remained undiscovered. So how did US/Iraqi forces find it? I'm guessing a HUMINT report. There has been a shift in Iraq since the elections, and I wonder if this has increased the quality of HUMINT reporting that lead to the camp being targeted. This is pure speculation on my part, but it would be nice if I'm right.

Of course, there are people that disagree. Prominent liberal foreign policy blogger Juan Cole is reporting that US forces "stumbled" upon the camp. I would have chosen a different word. Stumbled implies that a patrol randomly finding something like the three stooges stepping in some dog shit. However, all the reporting indicates that this was a raid, deliberately planned and executed.

Juan is also reporting that other media outlets are disputing the US reports. So some reporters go talk to some insurgents, the insurgents tell them a different story, and that's all the proof you need that you need that the US Military is lying. Bastards.

Even if the media did find some insurgents, you have to keep perspective. The insurgents that the reporters talked to probably weren't high ranking and may or may not have had all the story. They probably hadn't been in fight. I'm making that assessment because they weren't dead.

Perspective is key. Its like asking a private about his Brigade's operational planning. He may give you an honest, thorough, and thoughtful answer, but it will be limited only to his perspective which is narrow. Its just like dumb Captains who end up in a joint headquarters. He may have a wide perspective on the war planning, etc. But, he couldn't tell you what close combat is like. He has to read it in a book or a blog just like all the other pogues.

From my point of view, the military is pretty straight forward with the press. The left** has a knee-jerk reaction that makes them reflexively believe that the military is a bunch of lying thugs. I know that's not the case, and I hope my reader(s) understand that too.

The problem with a reflexive belief about military dishonesty is that it casts suspicion on veracity of any and all report. If you reflexively believe that the military is always lying, then how do you even begin to establish a baseline of truth? And if the mainstream media is buying into the "lies", then the left is forced to look for alternative news outlets that reinforce/confirm their worldview. Hey, that sounds a lot like the liberal argument against Fox News.

Regardless of your politics relating to the war, you have to admit that it hasn't turned out like anyone predicted it would. The far left blogosphere spent most of the fall and winter predicting this Vietnam-like quagmire. The Iraqi elections would fail, and the whole place would descend into chaos. We would be forced to withdrawal just like Vietnam.

That could have happened, but through guts, determination, and improvisation the coalition and Iraqis pulled it off. The elections worked, and now things seem to be getting better. The left has yet to admit this and keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think they should have a little more faith in our military to get the job done, regardless of who is president.

Of course, we still have a long way to go. And I'm betting that I end up back in the desert sooner or later, but I'm more optimistic now. Plus, if I go back, there are 85 less assholes to worry about. And that's good news.

** Note: For all my reader(s). I count myself as a liberal, but I have some problems with my side of the political spectrum. Julie and I were talking to a friend the other night about how we always get pigeon-holed by both the right and the left. Because of my professional background in both military and civilian sectors, Republicans automatically think that I'm one of them. Democrats automatically think that I'm some kind of war-mongering GOP asshole like that guy in Central Market the other night who was giving me dirty looks because I was wearing a military t-shirt (yeah, I saw you). Julie is always collateral damage in those assessments because we all know that a wife's political opinions must mirror her husband's, right? I'm a liberal Texan which means that I'm probably considered an extreme right-winger in some areas, but a pinko-commie elsewhere. I can deal with it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Urban Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield

When I was catching up on my schooling at sunny Fort Huachuca, we did an urban Intelligence Preperation of the Battlefield (IBP) exercise. The scenario was the 3rd ID Thunder Run through Baghdad. We had some guys in the class who had actually been on the Thunder Run so that made for some interesting discussion. Actually, almost everyone in the class, both reserve and active duty, had a combat patch and had been in OIF and OEF. There was a huge range of experience, and I think some of the students had more experience than the instructors.

Anyway, we did an urban IPB exercise, and I was reminded about how tought that stuff can be. At the begininng of last year I regally declared that my company would focus on SASO and MOOTW for training this year. Make sense given our current operatinal enviroment plus I'm the commander so I can regally declare things. Its fun. Everyone should try it.

Learning how to do good intel is cities is a big part of SASO and MOOTW. Of course, training my guys is just as tough as the school that I just came from. Most of them have been in OIF or OEF. I'm trying to capitilize on their experience to train the guys who haven't been. Sometimes its tough. You invarabibly get the E-4 with the bad attitude who says that everything was fucked up and intelligence is fucked up and the Army is fucked up. The combat patch gives him credibility, but the attitude gives me headaches. My challenge is to keep those who have "been there done that" engaged and interested.

As part of the training, I've given one of my sharp 2LTs the project of developing an urban IPB exercise using Camp Bullis (where we drill) as a small city. This will give my guys the chance to actaully walk the terrain and come up with a good product.

I'm then going to build on thatand have then entire company do a huge IPB exercise using San Antonio. I'm going to have them break down all the aspects of the urban battlefield with all the diciplines that I have. Maybe I'll even see if I can get some San Antonio gov't types to come down and be the "red team".

Anyone who has any suggestions on how to do this or what do read is welcome to comment or email me.

Note: Phil Carter at inteldump had a posting this week out urban stuff. He links to this RAND Study. I have a print out of this which I'm slowly making my way through. Its good stuff and worth a look.

Military Blogs

Noah over at Defense Tech has steered his readers to some MILBLOGs that are worth reading.

It ain't easy, blogging from the front lines. Keeping a website up isn't exactly the top priority under fire. And what's written often leans towards boosterism -- especially when the brass tends to clamp down on the more unvarnished depictions of military life.
But I've stumbled across a trio of U.S. Army bloggers in Iraq that I think are worth a read. With moving, you-are-there descriptions of military life, pictures from the battlezone, and ruminations on the big questions that war raises,
Major K, Thunder6, and Lieutenant C are extremely clickable. And, since all three are from the same batallion, readers get the benefit of three sets of eyes on the same questions and situations. Good stuff.

I clicked around in them before work this morning. I really like these blogs. I had a very "echelons above reality" view of the war when I was at CENTCOM. These guys do a great job of taking you down to the street level. But, they are also officers so they might have a wider/different perspective (no offense to the enlisted bloggers out there). Anyway, great catch Noah. These are worth a click.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Operation Truth Iraq AAR


AAR stands for After Action Review, and this one is pretty interesting. It is composed entirely of posts from Operation Truth Members. Worth Reading.

Qatar Bombing

This sucks.

It appears that AQ or some affiliated/sympathetic group has pulled off an attack in Qatar, and it threatening to blow up "crusader" military bases. Of course this threat could be b.s., but there are some implications here.

The biggest implication is that Qatar is one of few places in the Middle East where you can expect NOT to be blown up. Our troops are using one of the bases there as an R&R location from Iraq. Kinda hard to rest and relax if you're worried about getting attacked. I felt pretty safe in Qatar, but I'd have to wonder now. I'm sure that fit somewhere into the bad guy's plan.

Its also important to note that the suicide bomber is alleged to have been an Egyptian national. Estimates are hard to find, but the population of foreign workers is Qatar is very large. When I was there, we had Philipinoes, Pakistanis, North Africans, and Indians working on the camp. If you go into Doha, the feel is even more diverse.

But, this does not come without problems. Most of the "guest" workers in Qatar labor in the service industry or in the oil fields. They live in slum apartments on the edge of town, and I've read reports that they are often mistreated. These conditions are a breading ground for terrorism.

This blog out of Qatar has some things to say about the situation. There are pictures in the gallery page. Doha is not a very big city so I can imagine that everyone is feeling at least a little uneasy right now.

Her blog notes something interesting: "Only last week I was in a cab and the driver was listening to a speech encouraging people to go to Jihad across the globe. The preacher highlighted specific areas: Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir. The driver didn't seem to be bothered by what he was hearing, he just sat quietly absorbing it all. The two of us listened to that speech in the cab from my house to work. It was still going when I got out."

Monday, March 21, 2005

More on the Iraq Two Year Anniversary

This weekend at drill, I had my soldiers watch this episode of PBS's Frontline (available for purchase here). Overall, I thought that it was a good summary of the invasion. Of course, they left many things out, but I think this is another example of the excellent journalism that you get from PBS as opposed to CNN or Fox. Commercial news outlets just can't afford to have a commercial free in-depth show that lasts two hours. Then there wouldn't be any time to flash Lacy Peterson's face across the airwaves, and we all know what that can do the ratings.

One of the reasons that I showed the episode to my soldiers is because it does a good job of exploring the human costs of the war, especially to the Iraqi's. While I disagree with Marc Garlasco's evaluation of the effectiveness of the leadership targeting campaign, it is clear that we killed many innocents in our attempts to get people like Chemical Ali. I think the leadership targeting campaign had the net effect of keeping all those guys on the run so they couldn't mount an effective defense against the invasion. This saved lives on both sides.

But, what the documentary does--in a way that effective visual media can and print media can't--is show you the actually human cost. They interviewed an Iraq man who lost his family in an airstrike. It showed him explaining where he had dug his family out of the rubble, and then showed pictures of them. His wife, daughters, and mother were all killed in the attacked. Precious little girls blown to bits by a JDAM. A room full of soldiers is normally a boisterous bunch, but they were silent during that segment.

And that's exactly how I wanted them to be. As intelligence soldiers, its our job to tell people where the bad guys are. It is our judgment calls that can ultimately lead to things like collateral damage or an operational failure. And its not just "hajis" who die. Its old people and little kids, the people who we are trying to liberate.

The loss of innocent life is an unavoidable consequence of war, but it my job as a soldier to minimize it. The fewer families that have to be pulled out the smoking rumble of a shattered building, then the less appeal the insurgency will have. So, I thought using the documentary was an effective tool to hammer this point home. I hope it worked.

NOTE: I forgot that I'm not supposed to call my reserve duty "drill" anymore. It is a "battle assembly" now. I'll try to get it right next time.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Warm Beer and Sand, Two Years Later

Its hard to believe that its been two years since OIF kicked off. I worked nights at the CENTCOM forward HQ in Qatar so I watched all the initial strikes go in though various intel feeds. I came off shift at about 0600 in the morning at made my way back to the warehouse where our sleep tents were.

Prior to the war kicking off, we were allowed two beers a night at a little club they had set up on the camp. As the war drew closer, they cut off the alcohol. I never got to drink my beers anyway because of when I worked, but I had managed to hoard some in my wall locker.

So after my shift that first night of the war, I went back to my locker and got out a beer out of my stash that I really wasn't supposed to have. The morning was still cool so I went outside and sat on top of one of the bunkers and watched and listened to the jets as they took of from the airbase that was few miles away. Jet after jet was streaking north unleashing hell on the Iraqi Army.

The beer was warm and a clear violation of policy (which I'm sure I'll hear about from someone), but I guess that made it taste better. At that point things were still very uncertain. I didn't know where I was going to end up and nobody knew how this was going to go. A few days later the "mother of all dust storms" bogged down the attack and some asshole left the garage door open on our warehouse. All our stuff got covered in sand.

It was a minor inconvenience compared to what the guys in the actual attack were going through, but all the pundits were saying that our offensive was derailed. The dust that fucked up my walkman seemed to hammer the point home. Jessica Lynch's convoy got ambushed, and despite what the assholes in the far-left liberal blogosphere say, each and every one of us was concerned. One of the Colonels took a moment to remind us that we had to steel our hearts to war and brutality. There would be more casualties, and we had a long way to go before this was over. I guess he was more right than he could have guessed.

The storm passed and the march north resumed. We watched the thunder runs in awe, and we cheered as Saddam's statue fell. Truman was right when he said the Marines had a better propaganda machine than Stalin. We declared victory. After a few weeks instead of moving forward us to Baghdad like we all wanted/anticipated, they sent us back to Macdill AFB. On the way home, our plane broke down in Rota, Spain, and we all caught up on our drinking. The rule was if you were too drunk to climb back up in the back of the C-5, then you were too drunk. I almost didn't make it.

Our plane stopped again in Massachusetts to refuel and the locals turned out to stuff us silly with dogs and burgers. They were handing out little American flags and I still have mine. I was hung over, tired, and giddy all at the same time. Julie was driving from Texas to meet the plane. I actually got home on her birthday so we checked into a hotel and had a big night out on the town. More beer drinking and other stuff that's none of your business.

Of course while Julie and I were getting re-acquainted, the insurgency was just beginning. Over the summer things got gradually worse. I got released from active duty that September and went home to Texas. We bought a house and got pregnant.

I have drill tomorrow. I still have soldiers in Iraq. I'm guessing that its only a matter of time before I get called back too. This weekend, I'll stand in front of my soldiers and tell them to steel their hearts to war and brutality. I'll remind them that its just a matter of time before all our numbers come up and we're back in the sandbox.

Iraq Lessons Learned vs the Mainstream Media

I spotted the info listed below here . It was linked on another blog, but I forgot where. If this is all true, its pretty fascinating info. I especially like the part about the NCO from Belton, TX helping to fix the agriculture program. Sometimes as an officer you just have to hide and watch as the NCOs get stuff done.

I don't like point 9 about the "main stream media (MSM)" making to big a deal about the religious factionalism. I'm not doubting the truth to that statement, but I don't like the "MSM" whipping boy either. If this past "year of the blog" has proven anything, then its that there isn't such a thing as a monolithic media. Something new and interesting has emerged and it has empowered smart people to take their ideas to the public. And judging by the number of bloggers who are starting to get published in more established mediums, I'd say that the MSM had started to realize that it has some more talent to tap into.

All you have to do is look at who is getting published to realize that anyone can do it. Take the issue of WIRED that my article appears in. Ana Marie Cox, editor of the blog Wonkette, has a great article about Howard Stearn's migration to satilite radio. Then there is a great piece about podcasting (you think we're just seeing the begining of that?), and then another article about Wikipedia.

Everywhere you look there are examples of people who are smart, have some subject matter expertise, and can write well who are contributing to the so called main stream media. So I'm wondering why our military leadership hasn't jumped on board. If there are leaders in Iraq who don't think that the media is presenting an accurate picture (whether through bias or lack of information/expertise) why aren't they writing more about it?

I'd be willing to bet that if a Army Brigade Commander who just returned from Iraq contacted a publication like the New Yorker or the Atlantic wanting to write about what he/she saw, that publication would jump on the chance. The media wants to tell good stories and they want to hear from people who know what they are talking about. They want unique voices.

So if the MSM isn't doing a perfect job of telling our story, what are we doing to fix it?

Anyway, end of rant. Read below for some interesting lessons learned.

IRAQ--LESSONS LEARNED Here is a fascinating e-mail that is going the rounds in military circles. It is an account of a presentation given by one of the leaders of 1st Cav Div, just back from Iraq. I try to follow Iraq stuff pretty closely, but most of this I had never heard:

1. While units of the Cav served all over Iraq, he spoke mostly of Baghdad and more specifically Sadr City, the big slum on the eastern side of the Tigris River. He pointed out that Baghdad is, in geography, is about the size of Austin. Aus tin has 600,000 to 700,000 people. Baghdad has 6 to7 million people.

2. The Cav lost 28 main battle tanks. He said one of the big lessons learned is that, contrary to docterine going in, M1-A2s and Bradleys are needed, preferred and devastating in urban combat and he is going to make that point to the JCS next week while they are considering downsizing armor.

3. He showed a graph of attacks in Sadr City by month. Last Aug-Sep they were getting up to 160 attacks per week. During the last three months, the graph had flatlined at below 5 to zero per week.

4. His big point was not that they were "winning battles" to do this but that cleaning the place up, electricity, sewage, water were the key factors. He said yes they fought but after they started delivering services that the Iraqis in Sadr City had never had, the terrorist recruiting of 15 and 16 year olds came up empty.

5. The electrical "grid" is a bad, deadly joke. Said that driving down the street in a Hummv with an antenna would short out a whole block of apt. buildings. People do their own wiring and it was not uncommon for early morning patrols would find one or two people lying dead in the street, having been electrocuted trying to re-wire their own homes.

6. Said that not tending to a dead body in the Muslim culture never happens. On election day, after suicide bombers blew themselves up trying to take out polling places, voters would step up to the body lying there, spit on it, and move up in the line to vote.

7. Pointed out that we all heard from the media about the 100 Iraqis killed as they were lined up to enlist in the police and security service. What the media didn't point out was that the next day there 300 lined up in the same place.

8. Said bin Laden and Zarqawi made a HUGE mistake when bin laden went public with naming Zarqawi the "prince" of al Qaeda in Iraq. Said that what the Iraqis saw and heard was a Saudi telling a Jordanian that his job was to kill Iraqis. HUGE mistake. It was one of the biggest factors in getting Iraqis who were on the "fence" to jump off on the side of the coalition and the new gov't.

9. Said the MSM was making a big, and wrong, deal out of the religious sects. Said Iraqis are incredibly nationalistic. They are Iraqis first and then say they are Muslim but the Shi'a - Sunni thing is just not that big a deal to them.

10. After the election the Mayor of Baghdad told him that the people of the region (Middle East) are joyous and the governments are nervous.

11. Said that he did not lose a single tanker truck carrying oil and gas over the roads of Iraq. Think about that. All the attacks we saw on TV with IEDs hitting trucks but he didn't lose one. Why? Army Aviation. Praised his air units and said they made the decision early on that every convoy would have helicopter air cover. Said aviators in that unit were hitting the 1,000 hour mark (sound familiar?). Said a convoy was supposed to head out but stopped at the gates of a compound on the command of an E6. He asked the SSG what the hold up was. E6 said, "Air , sir." He wondered what was wrong with the air, not realizing what the kid was talking about. Then the AH-64s showed up and the E6 said, "That air sir." And then moved out.

12. Said one of the biggest problems was money and regs. There was a $77 million gap between the supplemental budget and what he needed in cash on the ground to get projects started. Said he spent most of his time trying to get money. Said he didn't do much as a "combat commander" because the war he was fighting was a war at the squad and platoon level. Said that his NCOs were winning the war and it was a sight to behold.

13. Said that of all the money appropriated for Iraq, not a cent was earmarked for agriculture. Said that Iraq could feed itself completely and still have food for export but no one thought about it. Said the Cav started working with Texas A&M on ag projects and had special hybrid seeds sent to them through Jordan. TAM analyzed soil samples and worked out how and what to plant. Said he had an E7 from Belton, TX (just down the road from Ft. Hood) who was almost single-handedly rebuilding the ag industry in the Baghdad area.

14. Said he could hire hundreds of Iraqis daily for $7 to $10 a day to work on sewer, electric, water projects, etc. but that the contracting rules from CONUS applied so he had to have $500,000 insurance policies in place in case the workers got hurt. Not kidding. The CONUS peacetime regs slowed everything down, even if they could eventually get waivers for the regs.

Fallujah Info

This link is a little old, but it makes for an interesting read anyway. Its a pretty good picture of what went down in Fallujah.

Radio Free Swarthmore

I did another radio interview about my WIRED article last night for a college program coming out of Swarthmore College which I suspect is one of those places where Mrs. Alexander's boy didn't have the SATs scores to get into. The interview was part of project that they've started to do in-depth reporting on the War in Iraq.

Tanya, the student who interviewed me, did a great job. It was her second interview, but she sounded like a pro. Plus, she promised to make me sound smart when the interview aired so she must not be afraid of hard work either.

It is good to see college kids engaged in things like this. I spent most of my college career drinking beer and chasing girls. Luckily, I met Julie so at least some of that paid off. But, I think my time would have been better spent doing things like this.

Here are some links to what they're doing:

BTW, she also gave me a chance to talk about my novel which I believe is one of the greatest pieces of American Literature that has yet to be published. (Right, now somewhere in the world someone is rolling up their pants because my bullshit just got a little too deep.)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

An Investment in Cruelty?

Phil Carter over at Intel-dump has made some good points about the homemade military videos that are coming out of Iraq. The GWOT is the first truly digital war, and we are just feeling the effects. I read a quote the other day about the internet, blogs, and politics comparing where we are in the digital age and politics to where we were with TV and politics in the 50’ other words the show is just about to start. It’s the same with war. Pictures and TV brought the battlefield into our living rooms. The internet and cheap digital technology expands this and takes the battlefield further into our lives, and I fear that we don’t understand the consequences.

Phil makes the point that our soldiers are essentially engaging in amateur information operations (aka propaganda), but that they don’t understand the consequences of their actions. He believes that these videos will end up being used as propaganda against us. I agree.

At CENTCOM during the war, we had an Al Jazeera feed so we could keep tabs on what was going on. I remember watching AJ on night before the invasion kicked off. There was a montage of old war footage with a voice over in Arabic. I don’t speak Arabic, but it was easy to understand the point that was being made by the video. Interspersed with current video from the OIF buildup were images of Gulf War I, brutal Vietnam footage (napalmed babies and village Zippo raids), and Nazi imagery. Actions that soldiers had committed in a previous generation were now being used as anti-American propaganda. We were the Nazis on the march. A picture of a napalmed baby has a long half-life.

Video and pictures bring you only partially into war. Without context or explanation images can obscure the truth in a way that print mediums does not. We are visual beings so if you see a picture, then you believe that you know something about what you are looking at. (this New Yorker article explores the folly of that belief)

War has been in our living rooms since Vietnam. The internet, embedded reporters, and 24hr news had made it a constant presence in our lives. I was in high school during Gulf War I, and remember watching the smart-bomb videos with teenage bloodthirsty glee. But, there was a detachment to it. The grainy video communicated to me that something or someone had just been destroyed, but it was like any other kind of video of destruction. Watching smart bombs dropped in Gulf War I was essentially no different from watching footage of a tornado tearing through a town. Something god-like and powerful was raining down destruction from above, and our airpower was unstoppable like the weather. And like the weather there didn’t seem to be too many real people involved, only the detached narration of fighter pilots and anchormen.

The same can be said for embedded journalists and their war footage. They are taking pictures as war happens. There is neutrality to it. War is happening and the journalist is communicating that to you. Sometimes what you see is brutal and it’s usually confusing. In these videos, war appears to be a force like the weather: brutal and unrelenting, something that is happening to everyone. But, it’s the homemade soldier videos that take us to a new level.

I’ve watched these videos with some degree of fascination. My war was spent in front of a computer screen so I remained detached from the realities of close combat. I watched UAV feeds of air strikes with a similar glee to what I had back in Gulf War I, but I never saw the real effects on the ground. However, there was a difference between the glee then and now.

When I was 17, compiling these videos and setting them to a rock and roll soundtrack would have seemed cool. Now, I realize that real-people have died and that there might have been collateral damage. I was happy that the strikes went in. Bad guys are dead which means less good guys will die. A guy you went to college with might not catch a bullet because of the thunder rained down from above. That’s a reason to be happy, but there is underlying human tragedy to the whole thing.

Most ground units are filled with teenagers and young people in their twenties. It is a macho, testosterone filled culture where aggressive behavior is cultivated and rewarded. This behavior is also supposed to be tempered by more mature senior leadership. Guys like me control when and where that aggression is unleashed.

So when I see these videos, I wonder where in the unit's leadership? Are they not familiar with the idea of the strategic corporal? Have they not read the news and seen exactly what the pictures from Abu Ghraib have done? Are they not aware that the enemy’s propaganda machine is just a proficient and media-savvy as ours?

I wonder what these videos must seem like to the outside world. What does it say about us as a country when our soldiers make sure they take their own video cameras into combat, record the brutality, edit the video, and then pick the oh-so-just-right heavy metal song to be the soundtrack. It must seem like a big investment in cruelty. Imagine if someone in your family were killed by US soldiers (whether or not they deserved it), then those soldiers made a video of it and distributed it on the internet for the world to see…and keep seeing over and over again. How would you feel? What would you do? I’d want to kill someone and keep killing until the score was settled.

I am not passing judgment on my fellow soldiers. They are in a doing a tough job in a dangerous place. I understand the urge for military glory. I have it too. I spent my entire adult life wanting to go to war, wanting a “combat patch” for the right shoulder of my uniform. But what I don’t want is my military glory to reflect badly on my country, my army, or myself. Something to think about the next time you fire up your digital camera.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Good Piece Of Social Criticism

From the Atlantic:

From the Article:

Yeah, and I guess part of the problem we try to identify is that there's a difference between the countercultural version of opting out and the kind of opting out where you just quietly slink off and become a hermit in the woods. I mean, Christian hermits have opted out for centuries without promoting consumerism. There's a specific problem that arises with the counterculture when people opt out as a way of rejecting mass society. There's an implicit status move there. People who opt out because they don't want to be members of the brainwashed masses are passing judgment upon all the people who choose not to opt out. You can see the almost unassailable sense of superiority that's associated with the vegan, organic-vegetable-shopping, back-to-the-land, Guatemala-handcraft-wearing, anti-globalization activists. They clearly think that they're better than the people who do not share their system of values. So, because other people don't like being characterized as brainwashed cogs, they wind up promoting competitive consumption. There are markets for people who haven't got the time or the leisure or the wealth to completely opt out, but who want to adopt the opting-out lifestyle. Sure, it's great if you can bake your own bread, but if you're busy, at least you can buy home-made-style bread. And there's that Mountain Equipment Co-op sort of "get away from it all to the wilderness one week a year" lifestyle.

This article about sums up all my complaints about the left. How did "I don't like conservative values so I'm buying a Mac" ever come to make any kind of sense to anyone? This is exactly what life in Austin can be like sometimes. I'm a liberal, but here in Austin there is always this left-ward pressure to be more liberal. You must drive the right car. You must listen to this music or not listen to that music. Your food must be cruelty free (as if any kind of trip to the slaughterhouse doesn't have some inherent degree of cruelty). Blah. Blah. Blah.

Meanwhile, while all us lefties are dithering about what kind of natural clothing fiber best fits our lifestyles, the poor are still poor. 200,000 kids are booted of healthcare in Texas. And outsourcing looms on the horizon for most of the tech industry in Austin. So are we solving anything or just engaging in "one-man circle jerks"?

Julie and I call them SAWLs--Sheltered Austin White Liberals--and sometimes they piss me off. I'm buying these guy's book so I can get more worked up.

Will Soap Operas Spell the Downfall of Kim Jong Il?

from NYT

How Electronics Are Penetrating North Korea's Isolation

SEOUL, South Korea - Halfway through a video from North Korea, the camera pans on a propaganda portrait of Kim Jong Il, North Korea's leader, magnificent in his general's dress uniform with gold epaulets. Scribbled in black ink across his smooth face is a demand for "freedom and democracy."


This is really interesting piece and show how much technology can impact societies in a short period of time. I remember reading that all radios in North Korea have their dials welded to the state-run statio....all commie all the time...

When I was researching my novel, I found out that there are no internet connection in North Korea and there is not even an official North Korean website. There is this site but I think its out of Japan.

So anyway, if we're seeing a tech boom in North Korea that is allowing an influx of new ideas, how long will it be before we see North Korean bloggers? And how long will it take the North Koreans to figure out that they're getting a pretty raw deal out of life? How long will the status quo last?

New Addition to the Blogosphere

Waheed claims to be a blogger out of AFG, and if its true this is exciting stuff. There are some that will probably say (like they did with Iraqthemodel) that this is part of a US I/O campaign, but I really don't care. If this guy really is posting out of AFG, then he is a needed voice. Let's hope Waheed posts frequently.

BTW, some of the details that he is writing about sound pretty true, especially when he talks about the ANA. So if this guy is a plant, he's a well-researched one.

This is basically the point that I was trying to make in my WIRED article. People in the intel community should be reading stuff like this. Because if Waheed does really know of some real farmers who are pissed about the poppy eradication effort, then we should know about it....and then do something about it. This is great intel.

More On Real Bravery

From MSNBC/Newsweek

Children of the Fallen
Over 1,000 American kids have lost a parent in the Iraq war. Who they are, and how they're coping

March 21 issue - They were prepared to die, even the truck drivers and supply clerks; any American who sets foot in Iraq must be. They made out wills, as the military requires, and left behind letters and videos for their families. The families in turn prepared for the day when they might open the door to find a chaplain on the other side. In military families the notion of duty is not confined to the battlefield. On the morning that 14-year-old Rohan Osbourne learned that his mother, Pamela, had been killed in a mortar attack on her Army base, his father dropped him off as usual at Robert M. Shoemaker High School, where three quarters of the students are the children of soldiers from nearby Fort Hood, Texas. "I might not get a lot of work done today, ma'am," Rohan politely explained to his teacher. "My mommy died yesterday in Iraq."


There is a Marine Corps Reserve unit that my BN shares a building with in Austin. They have lost 5-6 Marines since they've been called up for duty in Iraq. So right now, there are probably kids like this here in town.

The great tragedy of this is that the reserves and guard does not have the same support network that the active force does. The kid in school near Fort Hood who told his teacher that he might not get much done because his mom got killed probably had a pretty robust support network. His teachers and peers understood exactly what he was going through. I doubt its the same in the regular world. In fact, I know its not.

I wonder how a teacher here in Austin would deal with a statement like that? I'd like to believe that the teacher would handle it wonderfully, but after being in and around the public school system my entire life (almost everyone in my family is or was a teacher), I have my doubts. I'm wondering if there has been any formal training for teachers on how to deal with this stuff. Does anyone know? Email me if you do, and I'll post what you found out.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Moments When You Realize That You're Not That Brave or Tough


Relearning life, one task at a time
Mock home at Walter Reed helps Iraq amputees adjust

By Susan Levine
Updated: 12:13 a.m. ET March 13, 2005

The wheelchairs, crutches and still-healing bodies show up for lunch every Wednesday, crowding into a diminutive kitchen where the washer and dryer sit cheek by jowl with the electric range, and the sink is wedged between the fridge and a short bend of counter.

No one seems to mind the congestion. Most grumble good-naturedly as they brown hamburger meat and pull cupcakes out of the oven, sometimes bending or stirring awkwardly if a missing limb has yet to be supplanted or an artificial limb is too new for real dexterity.

"Why didn't you break the meat up before you put it in the pan?"

"I was under the impression I was only supposed to boil water."

"What? Am I the only one here with a functional pair of hands?"


There is a real kind of bravery in this world, and I don't think you know whether or not you have it until you're faced with something like this. We had a kid in our unit get his face melted off in Iraq. He had been cross-leveled as an individual out of Charlie Company 321st, his normal unit, and was attached to another unit in Iraq. When Charlie got re-mobilized a few months ago, he told everyone that as soon as he got better he'd volunteer to go back to Iraq and join them. He's facing twenty or so reconstructive surgeries before he's close to better and there is no way that he's joining up with Charlie. But, don't tell him that. He'll tell you to fuck off....sir.

My friends Kirk and Charity have that kind of bravery. They're out at Fort Huachuca right now and so I got to hang out with them over the last two weeks. Their son Lain has severe cerebral palsy. He can't walk. He can't talk. And he may never have a normal life. But, don't tell Kirk that. He's getting a sidecar for his Harley so Lain can go on rides with him. Life WILL BE normal.

I don't know if I'm brave. And I've been lucky enough to not have to find out. I volunteered for combat and ended up driving a laptop at CENTCOM. I think I could have handled close combat, but how would I handle losing a leg...or worse. Getting up everyday and willing your life back to normal is something that I hope I never have to face. They don't hand out medals for that kind of heroism, but they should.

Blogger note: Blogger's spell check told me to replace "fuck" with "fuji",
"CENTCOM" with "Contagion", and "Huachuca" with "Hashish". Weird huh? Maybe its trying to tell me that you'd have to be stoned to want to be stationed at Fort Huachuca. I agree.


For my legions of loyal readers....I've been out of pocket for the last two weeks doing my annual training for god and country. I was a pretty good two weeks at sunny Fort Huachuca, AZ, but its good to be back home in Austin. Robert Earl Keen said it best when he wrote "I understand why lizards live in sunny Arizona, but why people do and call it home, I'll never understand."

So anyway, in case any of you were worried, I'll start posting again soon.